With only a day to go for the trust vote in Parliament, chances of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) proving a majority are looking bleak. Irrespective of whether the government wins the trust vote or not, the events leading to the trust vote are giving rise to the rebirth of anti-Congressism that dominated politics in the 1990s.
Ironically, the Left Front, which backed the ruling UPA from outside for over four years, is the architect of this “isolate Congress” campaign. Its decision to draft Mayawati into the Third Front, and informal back door coordination with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance to defeat the UPA government in the trust vote amply demonstrate its dogged determination to avenge the alleged “betrayal” by the UPA government of its promise of not pursuing the nuclear deal without the consent of the Communist parties.
In just a decade, the political circle has turned full circle and the Congress-Left chasm is leading to the birth of a Left Front-backed Third Front.
The Congress leaders seem to have miscalculated that because the UPA is in power at the Centre, smaller parties will gravitate towards it in search of power. They have possibly not bargained for equally spirited attempts by the Left Front and other rivals in wooing smaller parties and independents and galvanizing support against the UPA government.
What next? Here is a list of possible political scenarios emerging in the wake of the trust vote.
UPA government loses: alternative government or elections?
If the government loses, President Pratibha Patil will explore the possibility of the formation of an alternative government as the Manmohan Singh government cannot recommend dissolution of the Lok Sabha after losing the trust vote.
The Left Front is most likely to take the initiative in cobbling together an alternative government with the outside support of the BJP. The Left parties are likely to push the candidature of either Mayawati or Chandrababu Naidu as the prime minister. Some present UPA allies (such as the Nationalist Congress Party, Pattali Makkal Katchi, even the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) may jump ship to join the new coalition, giving it the desired strength and stability. But, the BJP is not enthusiastic about supporting an alternative government as the party fancies its prospects of returning to power in the event of early general elections in these times of high inflation and political instability.
In the event that the BJP refuses to play ball, a rapprochement between the Left parties and the UPA to form another UPA government supported by the Left cannot be ruled out. This is likely to be the case as the Left and the UPA parties are not in a position to face the electorate as of now.
The bone of contention between the Left and the Congress would be the choice of prime minister. Left parties are likely to insist on a non-Congress prime minister—someone like Sharad Pawar who has maintained good rapport with the Left parties—or may even settle for a Congress leader of their choice, like Pranab Mukherjee, with a promise that the government will not take any further steps on the nuclear deal and will, in any case, not ink the deal whenever the US Congress gives its seal of approval. In addition, the Left parties are likely to demand exit of the Samajwadi Party (SP) from the UPA as a price for their support and to keep their new friend, the Bahujan Samaj Party, in good humour.
If all efforts at forming a government fail, the Manmohan Singh government will function as a caretaker government until November, when general elections are likely to be held simultaneously with elections to five state assemblies. Given their present mood, the Left parties would do everything to install an alternative government, even under an alternative Congress prime minister, to simply deny a few more months to Manmohan Singh as a caretaker prime minister because they fear that he may try and push the nuclear deal through, if he is given such a chance.
UPA government wins: will it survive full term?
If the UPA wins the trust vote, the nuclear deal will go through unhindered and the Manmohan Singh government will put long-pending economic reforms on the fast-track. However, pressures from allies such as the SP would make the functioning of the government difficult. It will have to constantly live in the fear of losing power if a no-confidence motion is moved against it in the next Parliament session.
Whether the government wins the vote or not, one man who is reportedly content is the Prime Minister, who feels unburdened after becoming free from the shackles of the Left parties. The same goes for the common man who seems to care little about the outcome of the trust vote as he finds the ongoing political circus agonizing at a time when he is troubled by unprecedented inflation.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org